THE WILD GEESE (1978)
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Over 3 decades before Stallone formed The Expendables, this all-star mercenary action flick had the idea to bring together a number of movie legends as a team of soldiers-for-hire on a rescue mission behind enemy lines in war-torn Africa. I had the pleasure of seeing this underrated action flick at the long gone Showboat Theater in Edgewater N.J. when it was released and quite enjoyed it then and even more now, as the added nostalgia makes it only more fun.
The story has aging mercenary team leader Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton) being hired to free the ousted and imprisoned president of a copper-rich African nation, Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona), by some big money men in London. Faulkner gathers his old comrades Shawn Fynn (Roger Moore), Rafer Janders (Richard Harris) and Pieter Coetzee (Hardy Kruger) for the mission. Once the 50 men required are trained and a rescue plan set, the mercenary team is dropped behind enemy lines to rescue their target. But, the money men come to a financial agreement with the new military dictator and so, The Wild Geese and the now the rescued Limbani are betrayed and left behind enemy lines to be hunted down and slaughtered by the vicious Simbas, a lethal army of well-armed and savage soldiers. Can they get out alive and return Limbani to his homeland to thwart their betrayers?
Based on a book by Daniel Carney, this is an old school, old-fashioned action adventure movie as directed by Andrew V. McLagen from Reginald Rose’s script. It was made at a time before the Die Hards, Rambos and Lethal Weapons changed the pacing and style of action movies forever. The film is moderately paced at first and takes it’s time to establish it’s likable characters and get it’s story in motion, but, once the team hits the ground, the film changes gears to a much faster pace for it’s rescue/shoot-out/chase flick second act. The action is well-staged and on a very large scale as our mercenary strike force are pursued and gunned-down by the relentless and numerous Simba’s. The action is also quite gruesome at times and the film earns it’s R-rating with a lot of blood spilled by bullet and machete alike. Cinematographer Jack Hildyard makes really good use of the South African locations to give the film a large scope and there is a pulse pounding action score by Roy Budd. It all combines for a rip-roaring good time and McLagen gives us some nice suspense and intensity to go along with the flying bullets and there is some fun but, unobtrusive comic relief especially during the training sequence with crusty old Sergeant Major Sandy (Jack Watson) and from a cranky African missionary played by Frank Finlay. An old style action epic that sadly has never really gotten the attention it deserves.
In the decade it was released, there were few bigger names than the leads cast here. Burton, Kruger, Harris and Moore all create some hard-nosed but, very likable heroes who may be getting a bit too old for this sort of adventure, long before Stallone’s borderline over-the-hill mercs hit the screen in 2010. The supporting cast, especially Watson, the always delightful Finlay and Stewart Granger’s slimy millionaire Sir Edward Matherson, support our leads well and overall create a large cast of characters to inhabit this tale of adventure and betrayal.
Obviously, from what you’ve read above, I really like this movie and I think anyone who enjoys a good action flick, especially old fashion war movies, will too. It takes about an hour to get our soldiers of fortune into motion but, once they do, the action is suspenseful and practically non-stop… though it never sacrifices some nice character moments for the gunplay… and I think the slower build-up is also engaging and the film benefits from taking it’s time developing the characters, so, we care about them when they are thrown in a jungle meat grinder. It’s an old style mercenary movie that was The Expendables of it’s day by putting an all-star cast together as aging men of war whose days of action are slowly becoming numbered. Simply a good, action-filled time of the type they rarely make anymore and all the more enjoyable for it. The film did eventually get a sequel of sorts, 7 years later, but, Wild Geese II is basically a sequel in name only and has none of the original cast and is quite forgettable.
MONSTERZERO NJ TRIVIA: The Wild Geese is edited by John Glen who not only edited a number of James Bond films and the classic Richard Donner Superman, but, directed all the James Bond films From For Your Eyes Only up to and including License To Kill!
3 and 1/2 bullets.
WARNING: this trailer shows a lot of spoiler-ish scenes…